Airmail Service chest badge, number 809
This is a badge issued by the Post Office Department’s airmail service office. Badges were issued to pilots, mechanics and officials who worked at postal airfields across the country. The Department ran the service from 1918 to 1926. The badge number, 809, indicates that it was probably issued in the mid to late 1920s. There is no record to indicate the person to which the badge was issued, although given the high number, it probably was presented to a mechanic, not an airmail pilot.
On August 12, 1918, the Post Office Department took full control of the newly-created U.S. Airmail Service. Control of the service was placed under Second Assistant Postmaster General Otto Praeger’s office. The Department ran the service from top to bottom – hiring pilots, obtaining airplanes, and creating the infrastructure for airmail flyways.
Unlike letter carriers, airmail pilots did not deliver the mail, but were responsible for flying mail sacks and bags between cities. The pilots wore their own clothing for flying, regardless of weather, until 1924, when the Department provided them with winter flying gear. Airmail mechanics and postal officials at each airfield were permitted to wear their own clothes. Most did not wear their issued badges unless they were going away from the airfield on official business. The airmail badge was often the only item carried by an airmail pilot or mechanic that identified him as a postal employee. A mechanic’s work life was often one of hours spent waiting or working on airplanes, followed by hectic minutes refueling and checking on the aircraft that stopped at the field to leave or receive more mail. Any problems pilots had with their machines while in the air needed to be related to mechanics who rushed to fix the problem before the pilot had to take off again, always rushing to keep to their schedule.